Friday, May 31, 2013

Death of a Downstate judge, downfall of another

Joseph D. Christ was serving as an Assistant State's Attorney in far Downstate St. Clair County when the judges of the 20th Judicial Circuit elected him as an associate judge this past February.

Ten days after he was sworn in, Judge Christ was dead.

At first, the death of the 49-year old, married father of six was attributed to natural causes. That's what Marlon A. Walker reported in the March 12 editions of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Walker wrote that Christ died on a duck-hunting trip with friends.

More specifically, he died in a Pike County hunting lodge owned by fellow Judge Michael N. Cook.

And then, as Robert Patrick reported for the Post-Dispatch, the Pike County Sheriff (who doubles as Pike County Coroner) found cocaine underneath Judge Christ's body. Toxicology reports suggested the presence of both cocaine and alcohol and authorities are now convinced that Christ died of a drug overdoes.

Judge Cook was only other person in the hunting lodge when Christ died and Cook was arrested on federal drug charges on May 22. But these charges are not related to the death of Judge Christ.

Beth Hundsdorfer of the Bellville News-Democrat wrote in a May 27 story published on the Post-Dispatch website that Cook appeared for an initial hearing before the federal magistrate last Friday "wearing cut-offs, a 'Bad is my middle name' T-shirt and shackles as he was arraigned on federal charges of possessing a weapon while using drugs and possession of heroin." Cook was arrested in the home of a 34-year old friend and former client, Sean McGilvery, who has also been charged, according to Hundsdorfer's article, "on two federal counts, conspiracy to distribute, and possession with intent to distribute heroin."

On May 28 the Springfield State Journal-Register carried an AP story claiming that a St. Clair County probation worker, James Fogarty, admitted to an FBI informant that he'd provided cocaine to both Judges Cook and Christ.

Paul Hampel writes in the May 29 Post-Dispatch that Cook has resigned from the bench -- or tried to. The Supreme Court had not yet received Cook's resignation letter and, according to Hampel's article, "The Supreme Court requires that a judge’s resignation be in writing to the chief justice, with a copy to the justice in the district in which the resignation takes place and to the director of the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts." The delay may be caused by the fact that Cook's access to the outside world is currently limited: Though free on bail, Cook has entered a drug treatment facility.

St. Louis television station KSDK reports that Judge Cook handled 90 percent of the circuit's drug court cases.

Cook, 43, was elected an associate judge in St. Clair County in 2007. He was appointed a circuit judge by the Supreme Court in October 2010, a month before he would have won election to the bench in an uncontested race.

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